The Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association has called for congressional hearings into the high incidence of heroin addiction that has afflicted Baltimore City for decades. Armed with statistics from a number of reporting sources, the neighborhood association is hoping hearings yield constructive solutions to a problem that has had devastating effects on the city and its populace.

“We have a serious drug problem in our neighborhood, and the number one drug that’s being sold right now is heroin,” said Association President Marvin ‘Doc’ Cheatham at a press conference announcing the request for congressional hearings on Sept. 16.

Cheatham cited Baltimore City Department of Health figures that indicate the number of people suffering from drug addiction in Baltimore City at around 60,000, with 48,000 of them addicted to heroin. Federal estimates, Cheatham said, put the number of heroin addicts alone at 60,000.

The press conference, poorly attended by media, had support from other community and civic organizations as well as from a number of public officials.

Sharon Black, a Baltimore People’s Power Assembly (PPA) organizer, stood with Cheatham as he announced the association’s call for hearings. She said that PPA , a worker’s rights and social justice organization demonstrating on the issues of racism and police brutality, saw the heroin problem as driven by a lack of well-paying jobs, poor public education, and holes in Baltimore’s healthcare infrastructure. She faulted the city’s choice of focusing on law enforcement over treatment.

“If that money can go to enforcement, then what we need to do is take it into the community and have healthcare centers because every single person, including myself who is from east Baltimore, has a family member that they know, whether they want to admit it or not, who has a drug problem,” said Black. A member of the audience responded with, “That’s right.”

Bernard McBride, president and CEO of Behavior Health System Baltimore, was present for the press conference. “There’s a big debate about how many addicts there are in the city and we’re starting to say, the more important number is how many people are there who today want treatment and can’t get it?” said McBride. “How many people are there today who would want treatment with a little bit of encouragement who aren’t getting it? Those are the numbers we really need to understand.”

The Rev. Jerome Stephens, a statewide field representative for U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, said Cardin is interested in holding hearings on the issue of heroin in Baltimore, but must first wrap up a series of hearings on the issue of racial profiling in law enforcement.

Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby called the city’s heroin problem “a byproduct of sins from generations ago” and noted the city’s drug culture has become normalized residents and its elected representatives, who have failed to address the issue adequately.

Mosby argued that in thinking about treatment, we need to focus not only on addicted persons but on children who are growing up in environments where addiction is a fact of life to prevent drug addiction from becoming a self-sustaining cycle. Additionally, he argued for providing greater economic opportunities to Baltimore residents, especially the city’s youth. “It’s really on us and our backs to ensure that we provide them with real opportunities, opportunities that are going to meet their needs, and wants, and desires today,” said Mosby.

Roberto Alejandro

Special to the AFRO